REVIEW: Yazz Ahmed Family Hafla at The Voicebox, Derby

Yazz Ahmed soloing at the Derby Jazz concert
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Yazz Ahmed Family Hafla
(Derby Jazz at The Voicebox, Derby, 17 March 2018. Review and photos by John Watson)

Temperatures in the Midlands had plunged well below zero, the falling snow was being driven by a biting wind... but inside The Voicebox at Derby the music of trumpeter Yazz Ahmed created the most gorgeous glow.

It’s been fascinating to hear how her music has developed over the last few years, its character strongly shaped by the rhythms and exotic scales of her Bahraini heritage, made more personal by her extensive but very musical use of electronics. Many people have compared her concept to that of Miles Davis – from Bitches Brew onwards – but the first musician I heard extensively using electronics to create new sounds on trumpet was Don Ellis. Each made the effects sound strongly personal, as does Yazz.

Her latest album La Saboteuse has won extensive critical praise, as have her concerts, including a key event at Kings Place during last November’s EFG London Jazz Festival which was enhanced by projections of the album’s striking cover art.

Family Hafla
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
She brought her Family Hafla group to Derby: George Crowley on bass clarinet; Naadia Sheriff, piano and keyboard; Dudley Phillips, bass guitar; Will Glaser, drums; Vasilis Sarikis, percussion; and Ralph Wyld, vibes.

Opening with The Lost Pearl, from La Saboteuse, the gentle rhythms and soft tonal textures built towards more intense interplay, with Ahmed’s long notes on trumpet – spiced by electronic enhancement – flowing against dashing, fluttering phrases from Crowley’s bass clarinet and the ripple of keyboards and vibes. This merged gradually into another track from the album, Al Emadi, with Wyld’s vibes and Phillips’ strong basslines playing a key supporting role, followed by the album’s title track.

Ahmed seemed to be gliding gracefully on a warm airstream of long tones – often on flugelhorn – lovely in texture, melodic in structure. But in the second movement of her suite A Shoal of Souls, something very special happened. She rapidly burst into a passionate, multi-noted torrent of blistering sounds – the warmth of her trumpet tone becoming a white hot core, with streams of electronic effects flaming around it.

The work is dedicated to the thousands of people who have died in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe and escape the trauma of war, and this second movement evoked a sense of outrage as well as despair. Ahmed was letting fly here, in a very musical way, with a sense  of structure in her wild improvising. It seemed to open up the possibility of an exciting dimension for Yazz to explore further in the future. I’m looking forward to it.

Yazz Ahmed and Family Hafla will be playing at the Jazz Cafe in London on 6 April.

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